Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. The first rule of Fight Club is just keep bashing your audience with the same word ad nauseam.
A video in which Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other Democratic politicians uttered the word “fight” 238 times, according to a count by the MSNBC TV network, was the most bizarre turn yet at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
The montage was played by Trump lawyer David Schoen on Friday in an attempt to demonstrate that such language is common in today’s political discourse, and protected by the first amendment to the constitution, so Trump’s call for his supporters to “fight like hell” should not be blamed for the insurrection at the US Capitol.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Schoen told senators, many of whom had seen themselves on TV screens inside the chamber. “It’s a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy.”
He was not wrong that it’s a word people use. Hillary Clinton, who was seen in the video, made Fight Song the theme of her ill-starred 2016 campaign against Trump. The world champion “fighter” is surely Senator Elizabeth Warren, who sprinkles the word in interviews liberally and wrote a book called This Fight is Our Fight.
But what Schoen was also doing was displaying whataboutism in its purest form – a wonder to behold, like a flawless diamond or pristine snow.
Whataboutism is a dodge often seen in rightwing media. If allegations are made against Trump’s connections in Russia, respond: what about Clinton’s emails? If Trump’s family are accused of exploiting their position, respond: what about Joe Biden’s son Hunter? If white supremacists are running riot, respond: what about antifa? It doesn’t matter if the equivalence is false because it’s all about attacking the opponent in order to muddy the waters.
The Trump legal team’s relentless “fight” video was a case in point. Some of the Democrats were quoted out of context due to selective editing. We heard Biden, for example, say “never, never, never give up this fight” but did not hear the full quotation: “I looked into the eyes of people who survived school shootings, and I made each of them a promise: I will never, never, never give up this fight.”
(Speaking of hypocrisy, Schoen accused the impeachment managers of “manipulating video” during his presentation.)
In addition, these Democrats were urging supporters to fight for a political cause. Trump was urging supporters to fight against democracy: his cause was based on the mendacious claim of a stolen election. And as the impeachment managers laid out on Thursday, he had spent years deploying incendiary rhetoric and demonising opponents.
Still, the Trump defence cleared the very low bar set by their opening Laurel-and-Hardy gambit on Tuesday. On Friday they provided talking points for rightwing media, straws for Republican consciences to clutch at and a boost for Trump’s spirits after some very grim days.